Monday, October 24, 2011

Green Revolution RELOADED : Increasing number of agri-entrepreneurs in Punjab are helping farmers become job creators from job seekers

Viney Sharma, Economics Times, New Delhi Edition, Vibrant North, Page 26
24th October 2011

    Drifting away from traditional farming of paddy and wheat never came that easy for the agri-entrepreneurs of Punjab. There were few takers of their ideas when they set off on a new journey. Not only providing employment to hundreds of youth but also inspiring others to become 'job providers' from 'job seekers'. These out of the box thinkers are heralding a second wave of green revolution in Punjab. On his visits to his native village Latala in Punjab Jassi Khangura noticed that many people were leaving for cities to seek employment, because opportunities for work in villages were limited even for those who owned land. He also noted that the social equations in the villages were heavily tilted towards men. And, women from the poorest sectors had no real opportunity at all. These were the issues he set out to address by forming the Macro Dairy Ventures (MDVL). A social enterprise dairy project, MDVL is located in villages near Ludhiana, providing highest quality community dairy infrastructure across villages and partners women entrepreneurs and contract farmers around its farms. Khangura, who is also the sitting MLA of Qila Raipur, designed and implemented the project to provide socially acceptable vocational opportunity for people from the poorest rural communities. With an initial investment of around 100 crore the project started in 2008 with the first community dairy unit at village Phallewal and the central state-of-the-art processing unit at Majara. Khangura's MDVL project also provides market linkage for women entrepreneurs through its brand TruMilk, a highend 100% pure cows' milk product, across Punjab and NCR. With a turnover in 2010 of around 50 crore, "It is amazing to see a positive impact of the project on the lives of the rural poor. When i see these women entrepreneurs ensuring their children are educated and are able to pay for medicines because of their partnership with MDVL, it's definitely all worthwhile. We currently have almost 1,000 such women. And, soon this figure will catapult to 3,200," Khangura said. Before becoming an aquaculturist, Rajvinder Pal Singh Rana, 38, from Mullanpur in Ludhiana, served in the Indian army and later worked for a MNC. He got into the fisheries business in 2001, without any financial help from any institution and started with only 2.5 acre on leased land. Rana now employs 14 people who remain at the farm round the clock. How did he do it? "I take training from various agencies on fish breeding, business development, FCR ration, fish processing and fish and water management," Rana said, who is also working on 'fish skin' and have applied for a patent. Apart from manufacturing a Tag machine which he sells at 250, Rana also produces fish oil at comparatively lower price than others in the market. Vikram Aditya Ahuja, 44, is currently an executive director of Zamindara Farmsolutions (ZFS), a Fazilka-based farm equipment bank. Vikram's philosophy is simple; a second green revolution will happen when farmers' debt burden is eased. ZFS helps small and marginal farmers improve the economics and sustainability of their work. It offers a combination of methods—farm equipment on pay per use basis, extension services, educating farmers etc to achieve their goals. The debt burden in Punjab outstrips the national average. With nearly 13 lakh farmers, Punjab has a per capita debt of 50,000 compared with the national figure of 15,000. On March 31, 2009, Punjab-based farmers owed banks a whopping 35,000 crore. Each acre in Punjab is under a debt of 15,000. Farmer suicides have been on the rise throughout India from 1997. "Farmers in North India have traditionally taken expensive bank loans to buy expensive farm equipment (tractors). This equipment have been by and large underutilised due to the small size of the farm holdings (4.2 million hectares are cultivated by 1.5 million families) and the seasonality of use," Ahuja of ZFS said. Punjab grows rice on 70 lakh acre (out of 4.2 million hectares). Farmers burn nearly 140 lakh tonne of crop residue (rice straw or naad). This causes damage to the environment, affects public health, dries up soil moisture, burns down the good top layer of soil and kills friendly insects. "Farmers follow this practice (of burning straw) due to lack of awareness, nonavailability of new technologies. We feel that this threat can become a major opportunity by creating awareness and making relevant machines available on affordable rates," Ahuja said. ZFS is associated with 6,000 farmer families and has trained 250 village youths in farm mechanisation. It also trained more than 4,000 farmers through campaign 'Earn–Don't burn'. It claims to have dissuaded 800 families from taking expensive farm loans (approx 30 crore) to buy farm machinery by offering machines on 'Pay for use' basis. Saving an yearly interest of 300 lakh in total. A large number of younger farmers from the region are exploring options in Africa nations like Ethiopia. Recently world's largest grower of roses, Karuturi Global Ltd invited the farmers from Punjab to invest in Ethiopia. Karuturi Global Ltd has evolved a revenue-sharing model for Indian farmers to share their expertise and lead the world towards self-sufficiency in food, said Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, who is the founder and managing director of Karuturi Global. Puneet Singh, a progressive young farmer from Chandigarh region, has signed a contract with Karuturi. "Our expertise would add value there business," Singh said. "It gives Indian farmers an opportunity to enjoy the economies of scale that comes along with large scale commercial farming seen in the United States and Australia."

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